LeBron James, dirty jokes, & Amy Schumer’s genius: The ‘Trainwreck’ spoiler review

We have plenty of movie coverage here at HitFix – including Drew's rave review of this film from SXSW – but as happens when I see a film relatively early in its run, and particularly one like “Trainwreck” with a fair amount of crossover with what I cover in TV, I like to offer up a few of my thoughts, as well as a place for people who have seen the film to start discussing it.

Again, this review is designed for people who've already seen “Trainwreck,” and thus will have plenty of spoilers, coming up just as soon as we split the check…

Amy Schumer is on an incredible roll right now. She just finished perhaps the strongest season to date of “Inside Amy Schumer” – and the “12 Angry Men” spoof is an early contender for 2015's best episode of television – and “Trainwreck” is a terrific movie introduction for her as both actress and writer. Technically, she's been in a handful of indie movies, but this is the first time the vast majority of the moviegoing audience will have seen her in a film. She didn't even put in a few years as the heroine's funny best friend in a bunch of lame romantic comedies, but – thanks to the benevolence and sharp eye for talent of director Judd Apatow – jumped straight into being at the center of her own, very sharp one.

That “Trainwreck” is so filthy and funny shouldn't be a surprise to anyone familiar with Schumer's stand-up and TV work. That the movie is also so human and warm and knowing is. There's a version of the film that's all about Amy's sexual misadventures, pitched at a blistering but superficial level (essentially, the tone of the scene where Amy and Nikki are stunned when Aaron calls to ask Amy for a second date, stretched out to feature length), and it would have been a very funny movie. But Schumer's aiming for something deeper than that – even if, structurally, it's a gender flip on Apatow's various comedies about man-child heroes who eventually learn to grow up – and takes the story and its central characters (particularly Amy, Aaron, and Amy's sister Kim) very seriously. The eulogy Amy delivers at her father's funeral is a lovely piece of acting and writing, and the conflicted emotions Amy and every other person at that funeral have about Gordon nicely sums up why Amy has let her father's bad advice shape her life to this degree. And where the third-act sentiment of movie comedies can sometimes feel forced, the scene where Amy finally bonds with her quirky nephew over his Minecraft drawings was so specific to those two characters that it worked.

We'll see if other writers will be able to serve Schumer as well as she does for herself, but she shows off much more range than you might expect from “Inside Amy Schumer,” where she mainly plays the broadest version of the Amy that we meet early in the film.

And yet for an unapologetic star vehicle, “Trainwreck” is incredibly generous. Bill Hader gets a more well-rounded character to play – and in the process adds romantic lead to the list of roles he can play (which, at this point, is almost everything) – than his female counterpart likely would have gotten in the male version of this movie. (It's a better character, for instance, than Apatow gave Katherine Heigl in “Knocked Up.”) And virtually everyone who walks in front of the camera gets at least one big laugh, and often several.

LeBron James is a delight playing himself as Aaron's gossipy, cocky and incredibly cheap best friend. Lots of athletes over the years have proven willing to poke fun at their own images in movie and TV roles, but few have been as natural on camera as King James. His size pretty much limits him to playing himself (unless Penny Hardaway is willing to relinquish remake rights to “Double Action”), but Schumer and Apatow used him incredibly well here, and particularly in the scene where he refuses to go easy on Aaron in a game of one-on-one.

But this is a movie that manages to incorporate James, Amar'e Stoudemire, an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton, John Cena, and 100-year-old Norman Lloyd, and figure out exactly what is the funniest thing to have each of them play in this world.

That level of generosity and comic savvy means that “Trainwreck,” like almost every Apatow-directed film (along with many of the ones he produced), is a little too long. There are scenes that could and probably should have been much shorter – the entire baby shower sequence, for instance, could have easily been tightened up – even as you can imagine Apatow not wanting to take away someone's moment, like Tim Meadows' reaction to hearing that Aaron has worked with Alex Rodriguez.

But the film is so strong from moment to moment, and so smart in the way it uses rom-com tropes without being controlled by them, that I can forgive it some of its predictable excesses. Just look at the fight that Amy and Aaron have after she walks out of his awards speech to talk to her boss. In a lazier movie, Aaron would break up with her right in that moment, but here he's aware that this is a thing they're going to fight about but ultimately move past, and it's not until several more scenes have passed – including the uncomfortable and hilarious all-night argument they have about it – that they actually split. Amy and Aaron get to be people driven by their own personalities and behavior, and not by the needs of genre formula.

Schumer and Apatow came together by chance, as he was driving around back in 2011 when he heard her telling stories on Howard Stern and decided he wanted to help her turn those stories into films. It's a good union for them both. Apatow's powerful enough that he was able to preserve Schumer's sensibilities rather than water them down for the movie, and it in turn serves him well to be directing another writer's work. He's a great writer, but it helps to work with other voices from time to time to freshen up your own work, and some of Apatow's best work (including “Freaks and Geeks”) involved him helping to tell someone else's story.

One of the recurring sources of jokes on “Inside Amy Schumer” (including the “12 Angry Men” episode) is the stupid but unfortunately prevalent question of whether Schumer is hot enough to have her own TV show. Based on the reviews – and, more importantly, what looks to be a very strong opening weekend at the box office, despite competition from a Marvel movie, “Jurassic World” and “Minions” – she's got the only kind of heat that ultimately matters in the business, and should be able to do whatever she wants next. I hope part of that will be many more seasons of “Inside Amy Schumer,” but I also can't wait to see what movie choices she makes after this one. 

Some other thoughts:

* Getting back to Norman Lloyd, for a second, may we all be so lucky as to live that long and full a life. This guy acted in: Orson Welles' very first Mercury Theatre production, appeared in one of Alfred Hitchcock's earliest American films, and was the enthusiastic heart of one of TV's greatest dramas in “St. Elsewhere.” (And he was also part of that show's controversial final scene, which presaged all of this century's divisive and/or ambiguous TV drama finales.) 

* Even for an actress that chameleon-like, the role of Amy's horrible boss was so far outside what I've come to expect from Tilda Swinton that I honestly didn't realize it was her until my wife asked if it was her. Though at this point, I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out she was also playing LeBron James.

* Because movies take a long time to put together, “Trainwreck” takes place in an alternate timeline where LeBron has already returned to Cleveland, yet Mike Woodson is still coach of the Knicks and Amar'e and Tyson Chandler are both still on the roster. (If Apatow had George Lucas-type tendencies, we could expect the home video release to replace Amar'e with Kristaps Porzingis.)

* Most of the cameos worked very well, but the intervention scene with LeBron, Matthew Broderick, Chris Evert and Marv Albert veered a little too close to being an “Inside Amy Schumer” sketch, particularly with Marv being unable to do anything but provide play-by-play (and talk about himself in the third person). On the other hand, it came after a long stretch where LeBron was absent, so it was at least good to have him pop up one more time.

* Even after he let Andy Dwyer put him in a dunk tank near a tarantula, I didn't expect John Cena to be quite as game for anything as he was here. The scene where Amy coaxes Steven into talking dirty to her is among the film's most explosively funny. And even though that gag continues at the movie theater, the movie is sharp and human enough to empathize with him in the fight he has with Amy after, rather than simply making him into a closeted cartoon. (Cena also popped up in the “Sisters” trailer that ran right before the film; The Rock doesn't have anything to worry about yet, but it's interesting to see Cena's acting career heading in this direction after doing straightforward action before.)

* Speaking of the movie theater scene, raise your hand, everyone who wants to see more of “The Dogwalker,” the film-within-the-film starring Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei?

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com